Mark Lynas betrayed more of his intellectual influences this week, when he tweeted as @mark_lynas “Colony collapse disorder – honeybees – not quite the environmental story it seemed:
Hmmm. That’s a piece from a new generation of Nordhaus-es, Hannah, writing for the Breakthrough Institute, founded by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, authors of “The Death of Environmentalism“, a document I truly regret wasting the paper to print. As I read it, I started scratching hot red comments in the margins, so many, that in the end the pages were more red than black-and-white.
Hannah’s piece, like her book, “The Beekeeper’s Lament“, is more delicate and considered, I think, but still shreds decades of environmental thought and much science, without any justification in my view.
She writes, “…very quickly, many journalists settled on neonicotinoids — pesticides that are applied to more than 140 different crops — as the likely culprit. It seemed a familiar story of human greed and
shortsightedness. With their callous disregard for nature, big chemical companies and big agriculture were killing the bees — and threatening our own survival. The honey bee’s recent problems have occasioned a similar rush to judgment. Before any studies had been conducted on the causes of CCD, three books and countless articles came out touting pesticides as the malady’s cause. Had I been able to turn a book around quickly, I might have leapt to the same conclusions. But I was late to the party, and as more studies came out and I came to better understand the science, I became less and less convinced that pesticides provided a convincing explanation for beekeepers’ losses…”
Her argument appears to be that pesticides are bad for other pollinators, not bees; but that this makes life harder for the bees, who then have to do all that pollination instead :-
“In steps John Miller, a boundingly energetic and charismatic beekeeper, who tasks himself with the care and the sustainable keeping of honeybees. He is descended from America’s first migratory beekeeper, N.E. Miller, who, at the beginning of the 20th century, transported thousands of hives from one crop to another, working the Idahoan clover in summer and the Californian almonds in winter. Back then beekeepers used to pay farmers to keep a few dozen hives on their land. But now farmers pay beekeepers millions of dollars to have their crops pollinated by upwards of ten thousand hives. With the rise of the monocrop and increasingly efficient pesticides, there are simply not enough natural pollinators to complete the massive task of sexing-up millions of acres of almond groves.”
This kind of writing seems to me like a lot of anti-green writing, where a straw man is set up, only to bow down and worship it. The central framework of fallacy appears to be :-
a. Environmentalists are zealous, and therefore crazy.
b. They believe pesticides are dangerous to bees.
c. They must be wrong, and pesticides can’t be all that bad for bees.
Let’s just read a little around that idea, shall we ? Let’s start with Wikipedia, just to make it easy :-
“For the majority of pesticides that are registered in the United States, EPA only requires a short-term contact toxicity test on adult honeybees. In some cases, the agency also receives short-term oral toxicity tests, which are required in Europe. EPA’s testing requirements do not account for sub-lethal effects to bees or effects on brood or larvae. Their testing requirements are also not designed to determine effects in bees from exposure to systemic pesticides. With Colony Collapse Disorder, whole hive tests in the field are needed in order to determine the effects of a pesticide on bee colonies. To date, there are very few scientifically valid whole hive studies that can be used to determine the effects of pesticides on bee colonies.”
Actually, it’s not just “mad environmentalists” who are concerned about the effect of pesticides on honeybees. Here’s just one scholarly paper :-
“High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health”, Mullin et el., 2010.
What has this got to do with Climate Change. I can hear you asking ?
Well, it’s like this – in order to do intensive farming, agricultural chemicals are used on crops. Specialised herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are used on genetically modified crops, along with chemical fertilisers.
In order to convince people to accept Genetically Modified food, they’ve got to be encouraged to believe that pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are really alright.
Hence, pesticides cannot be fingered as a problem for bees, otherwise people might not accept GM crops…
Yes, it’s coming back round to tampering with our food genes. And it’s being sold to us as a cure for Climate Change.
At the bottom of this page there’s a transcript of a snippet from a television programme I was unlucky and incensed enough to have viewed yesterday. Called “The Wonder of Weeds”, it took us through the basic logic of modern-day plant breeding, including the role for genetic modification of plants – without once mentioning the words “life sciences”, “bioengineering”, “biotechnology” or even “genetic modification”.
The GM crops are presented as being the saviour of humanity, without once mentioning why conditions in the world may be damaging crops in new ways in the future, a lot of which will be due to climate change.
There was the usual category error – of confusing science with technology. Let’s repeat that one again. Technology is when you play with the genes of a crucial staple crop like wheat. Science is when you discover, maybe 25 years later, that it has had knock-on effects in the food chain. Oh dear. Too late for remorse – the genetically modified genome is now globally distributed.
The presenter of the programme, Chris Collins, didn’t even spot the cognitive dissonance of his own script. In the first part of the programme he talks about common weeds that are foreign invaders in the UK and cause untold trouble. In the second part of the programme he doesn’t even blink when he talks about modifying crops at the genetic level – not questioning that introducing foreign genes into vital crops might have detrimental, unforeseen impacts – rather like a microscopic version of the imported “plant pariahs”, Buddleia davidii, Rhododendron ponticum and Japanese knotweed. Oh yes, Oxford Ragwort, another introduction to the UK, is not such a hazard, but you can’t guarantee what happens when you get plant invaders.
I find it astonishing that such obvious propaganda on behalf of corporate plans to modify crops for their own private market profit is allowed into BBC television programming.
Climate Change is being used as the Trojan Horse rationale in which to bring GM crops to the UK, and elsewhere, as part of international agricultural development programmes. This is the ideological equivalent of a rogue gene inserted into the DNA of science. I find this an outrage.
I recommend you check the work of GM Freeze to counter this braintwisting manipulation.
And if you want a little bit more of an insider on what Dr Alison Smith, featured in the BBC show, is actually doing with her amazing knowledge of plants – it seems her work encompasses improving the production of alcoholic beverages, not feeding the world. I kid you not :-
“Glucosidase inhibitors: new approaches to malting efficiency : Alison Smith, John Innes Centre : Improving the efficiency with which barley grain is converted into beer and whisky would reduce waste and energy consumption in the brewing industry, as well as ensuring profitability. This project aims to improve the efficiency of malting, the first stage in beer and whisky production, by building on new discoveries about how barley grains convert starch to sugars when they germinate.”
What is the BBSRC ? This is a research programme that’s “infested” with corporate people – whose agenda is money-making, not philanthropy.
And what’s genetic modification of crops got to do with Mark Lynas ? Well, just read his new book, “The God Species“, and you’ll find out.
The plain fact in my view is that we do not need genetically modified crops in Europe. In Africa, they’re too poor to afford the chemicals to use with the GM seeds. And in the not-too-distant future, the price of the chemicals will shoot up because of Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas, making GM crops inaccessible to those North Americans who currently use it. So this particular technology takes us nowhere forward at all. We need to manage water and the root causes of poverty rather than tamper with genes.
BBC 4 TV
Saturday 25 June 2011
“The Wonder of Weeds”
“Travelling around the UK and meeting experts in botanical history, genetics, pharmaceuticals and wild food, Chris Collins tells the story behind the plants most people call weeds.”
45 minutes 20 seconds
…And the massive irony of all this is that the very crop that has become a monoculture at the expense of weeds, wheat, was once a weed itself…
Plant scientist Professor Nick Harberd of Oxford University has researched the moment a weed became wheat.
Nick : “About half a million years ago, there was spontaneously, in the wild, nothing to do with human beings, a cross-hybridisation, a cross-pollination if you like, between two wild grass species…”
“…So one can imagine that humans were cultivating this wheat [10,000 to 12,000 years ago] in a field and then by chance a weed was growing within that field. And there was again a spontaneous hydridisation event beteen the cultivated wheat and this wild grass that was growing in that imaginary field.”
“The whole process made a plant that was bigger and more vigorous. And as a result of this we ended up with the wheat crop we all grow and feed off today.”
Nick can exactly recreate exactly how wheat and weeds crossbred in a lab today…
47 minutes 40 seconds
Weeds helped us out millenia ago and now scientists in the 21st Century have turned to weeds once again for one of the most important discoveries in plant biology ever.
It could save lives by creating a super wheat.
It all took place here, at the John Innes Institute in Norwich.
Alison : “So come on in Chris. You need to sterilise your feet here…”
Chris : “So this means we’re not bringing in anything nasty from outside…”
Alison : “That’s right. No thrips or viruses or anything else that might come in.”
Dr Alison Smith is head of Metabolic Biology here.
Chris : “This is the first time I’ve ever dressed up to go and see a weed.”
Alison : “We look after our weeds very carefully here.”
Alison’s team have been studying a small common weed called Arabidopsis [thaliana] or Thale Cress, which is now used as the model to map the DNA of all plants on the planet.
Alison : “Well this weed is incredibly easy for us to work on. And all plant scientists almost in the world take information from this weed. And many plant scientists only work on this little weed.”
“The reason why it’s really useful is that like a lot of weeds it goes from seed to seed really quickly, so we can get through lots and lots of generations, and that makes it easy for us to do genetic studies to understand how the weed behaves and what all of its genes are doing.”
“But also, about 20 years ago, plant scientists got together. And at that time they were working on lots and lots of different plants. And they decided, let’s work on one plant together that can become the model from which we can develop our understanding of plants.”
“So about the same time as we were sequencing the human genome, we started to sequence the genome of this little weed. So in 2000 we got the entire gene sequence of this weed, all of the genes are known, the same time as we understood the human genome.”
Chris : “So really then, this small weed is a blueprint for all plants ?”
Alison : “This is the model for all plant life, that’s right.”
But the sequencing of the Arabidopsis genome is not just for the sake of it. Alison and her 600 colleagues are unlocking the secrets of the plant’s success, like its speedy growth rate and its hardiness, and are transfering those abilities to the crops that matter to us, like wheat.
This is one of the most important discoveries in plant biology ever, where one of the humblest weeds could save millions of lives around the world.
Chris : “Now we’ve seen our magic weed and you’ve got this genetic blueprint. How do you take that blueprint and apply it to arable crops like this wheat ?”
Alison : “Well we can start to tackle, using this blueprint, some of the real problems that we have with our crops like disease, for example. Our crops are quite susceptible to some diseases. We’ve been able to breed for that, but we haven’t known what genes we’re breeding for.”
“In Arabidopsis, Arabidopsis gets diseases as well, we can understand exactly how it’s resistant to those diseases. We know what genes it needs. And we can say right, where are those genes in wheat ? Can we make sure that our new wheats have the genes that make them resistant to disease ?”
“Another example would be how the wheat exactly makes its seeds. Obviously, this is the really important bit of wheat. This is what we eat. This is human food. We understand a bit about the process of about how these little seeds are formed, but in Arabidopsis we understand in absolute molecular detail how those seeds are made, and that helps us to understand how we make to make better seeds, bigger seeds, more nutritious seeds in wheat. We can apply that knowlege in wheat.”
Well, I know scientists don’t like to be too dramatic, but I’m going to be, because of simply what I’ve found out. Weeds can play a big role in arable crops like wheat, or even maybe the future of humanity.
Alison : “I think it was the starting point for what has to be a revolution in our crops, a revolution in understanding how they work and making them work better and doing that fast.”
“It’s taken our ancestors, you know, millenia, to get to this point. We can’t afford to take the next step in millenia. We have to take it in tens of years or less. And in order to do that, you’re absolutely right, the information from Arabidopsis has been the key to pushing us forward.”
It’s the resilience of weeds and the insights they give us into helping crops survive that makes them amongst the most useful plants on the planet…
The design of the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change “Energy Infrastructure” website shows what appears to be an robotic, alien figure in a green and pleasant land under a wind turbine. It must be a trick of the light, but I’m sure you can see the join between its head and its body, and added to that, there’s an unearthly glow around its helmet :-
But what intrigues me more than the choice of photographs to adorn this website, and the curious, 1940’s style graphic of an electricity pylon used as a logo, is the mention of the recent permission granted to an CCGT/OCGT power station planning proposal at RWE npower Willington C in Derbyshire :-
Burning petroleum refinery residues ? Yes.
The decision letter lays out that :-
“On 24 September 2010 the Company formally requested if section 36 consent was granted that it could be on the basis of a phased development, that is the construction of the open cycle gas turbine generating station, followed by the combined cycle gas turbine generating station once development consent for the natural gas pipeline had been obtained. The Company has explained that the open cycle turbines can be operated on distillate oil and would be used only for periods to meet peak demand or in response to intermittency in renewable generation”
The gas pipeline has been requested :-
But I’m asking myself, has no progress been made in energy policy ? Are we going to carry on burning oil refinery residue at times of peak demand ? The people and many of the Parliamentarians have shown their resistance to new coal-fired power stations, and there does appear to be a moratorium on new coal, kind of. But do people realise that some of the new “peaker plants” that are believed to be necessary will be burning fuel oil ? You see, Willington C is not alone :-
“In June 2011 we announced that we are investigating the possibility of developing a new distillate oil-fired open cycle gas turbine (OCGT) plant at our Fawley site. For more information about the proposals…” :-
Are people aware of what fuel oil is and what burning it can do ? :-
So you see, people, if you refuse wind farms, you get Civil Service non-engineers agreeing RWE npower can carry on burning toxic oil refinery waste to provide your electricity. Great choice, Britain !
The final part (I really hope it is the final part) of Adam Curtis’ trilogy on “Evil” Computers and “Devillish” Enviromentalists – “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace” – a title drawn from a poem written by what would appear to be a madman – has now been uploaded to YouTube, allowing me to view it without taking part in the memory-eating public monitoring disappointment that is BBC iPlayer :-
Adam Curtis certainly reveals himself as a little monkeyish in this episode, throwing overarm and underhand javelins at “liberals” of all hues and cries, particularly environmental ones; and throwing in liberal references to primates wherever he can, seemingly to suggest that mankind has un- or de-evolved by adopting computing tools and studying the natural world.
James Delingpole hardly ever sets his delicate foot in Wales, the country he archaically refers to as “the Principality”, apart from, ooh, about ten days a year when he holidays there, but nonetheless, feels he has some kind of inherited ex-colonial right to be affronted that large electricity generation and transmission infrastructure are going to be built there :-
He gets top marks for being rather offensive himself – achingly rude, in fact, about the Welsh Assembly, besides his getting untethered about the wind farms and pylons for the transmission cables :-
“…The wind farms are bad enough on their own. But to make matters far worse […], in order for these bird-crunching, bat-chomping, view-blighting, rent-seeking monstrosities to be connected to the grid a huge 400kv power line is going to be constructed all the way from Montgomeryshire through some of Britain’s most spectacular scenery to the equally beauteous Shropshire…”
We are stardust ? Well, not quite. As carbon-based lifeforms we’re actually the offspring of a young sun, composed of the lighter elements, with a low concentration of a few transition metals essential for our health and vitality. Irn Bru, anyone ?
The actual products of exploding old stars that got lodged in the crusty skin of the accreting Earth are often quite toxic to us. Over millions of years, heavy and radioactive elements, being of no use to the ecosystem, have been deposited at the bottom of lakes, seabeds, and ended up lodged in seams of coal, and caverns of petroleum oil and Natural Gas. Uranium ores and other nasties have been overlain by forests and deserts, and only rarely vent, like radon, from Vulcan’s infernal lairs.
And what do humans do ? We dig this stuff up to burn or fission for energy, and when we do it creates toxic waste, that hurts us, and the life around us. Why are we surprised that mercury from the coal power industry is killing fish and harming children ? Why is it a shock that the tailing ponds from mining tar and oil sands are devastating pristine wilderness and waterways ?
It appears that science has now caught up with shale gas extraction technology, and the result is a toxic shock :-
“Hydraulic Fracturing for Natural Gas Pollutes Water Wells : A new study indicates that fracturing the Marcellus Shale for natural gas is contaminating private drinking water wells : By David Biello, Scientific American, May 9, 2011”
This might come as a bit of a nasty blowback for Christopher Booker, who was singing the praises of “gamechanger” shale gas at the weekend :-
“Shale gas could solve the world’s energy problems : It’s anathema to environmentalists, but shale gas is a new fossil-fuel source that could power the world for centuries : By Christopher Booker 7:30PM BST 07 May 2011”
[ UPDATE : Don’t tell me. I know the images are mostly from India, but the music is Punjabi… ]
“Draft of national climate change policy finalised : Noor Aftab : Monday, February 21, 2011 : Islamabad : The draft of National Climate Change Policy has been finalised after two years of deliberations and now the Environment Ministry would present it to the federal cabinet for final approval, the sources told The News here on Sunday. The sources said the recommendations in the draft would certainly test the government’s commitment as it has been proposed to go for alternative energy resources instead of using fossil fuel, considered one of the major reasons for environmental degradation. The sources said the draft recommendations prepared by a core group of the Environment Ministry mainly focuses on two areas including adaptation and mitigation with an aim to enable the country to cope with fast increasing environmental challenges. One of the top officials of the Environment Ministry told this correspondent that continuity of casual approach towards environmental sector has now made economic managers and policy makers feel the heat as environmental degradation has started costing five per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in Pakistan…”
“Sunday, February 20, 2011 : UK to keep helping Pakistan’s flood victims: Sayeeda Warsi : LAHORE: Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a British cabinet minister of Pakistani-origin, said on Saturday that the United Kingdom would continue supporting Pakistan in the post-flood operations. “Today I have been heartened to see and hear how the UK is helping millions of people in Pakistan rebuild their lives, but there is much more to do, with widespread malnutrition and the risk of disease outbreaks,” Warsi said while talking to reporters in Islamabad. The primary purpose of Warsi’s visit to Pakistan is to learn how the country is recovering, what more needs to be done, and to see how more than Rs 27.7 billion from British people is supporting the flood victims. “When I was here exactly six months ago in August at the peak of the floods with the UK International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell I saw scenes of devastation,” the British lawmaker recalled. She said that some areas of Sindh were still under water, adding that reconstruction of millions of houses, bridges and schools that were destroyed would take years…”
Image Credit : Jacques del Conte
Flushing gas from sandy mud-rock, deep underground. Hmmm. Bet that’s energy- and resource-efficient. Not.
So…the whole caravan comes to town, builds the rig, pipes in water, pumps in chemicals, filters off the gas, pipes out the poisoned water somewhere unquantified, and then packs everything up after a few months because there’s no more gas coming up, leaving the area looking like a moon crater :-
So how carbon-intensive is this kind of operation ? It’s a bit like chopping down Indonesian and Malaysian tropical rainforest to grow oil palm and then burning dirty bunker fuel to ship it all the way to Europe to make “cleaner burning” biodiesel. In fact, it could be worse than that – it could be dirtier than coal :-
And what’s all this business about chemical adulteration of groundwater ? That could be to do with the “hydraulic fracturing” process from horizontal drilling :-
It’s true that the business needn’t resemble a travelling circus when there’s a large “play” of shale and horizontal drilling is used, but what about the possible side effects of chemical leakage into bodies of water and seismic activity, which doesn’t seem to get mentioned very often ? :-
There is some concern that shale gas is being promoted as a new “cure-all” for the energy industry, as gas is believed to be a cleaner source of fuel than coal, and gas shale is much, much cheaper than the proposed carbon capture projects and new nuclear power stations, which will only be developed with substantial tax breaks or subsidies or grants. (I mean, can you see a carbon price being set high enough to pay to make it worthwhile to fit Carbon Capture to every coal plant in the world ?) :-
“The recent ‘shale gas revolution’ in the United States has created huge uncertainties for international gas markets that are likely to inhibit investment in gas – both conventional and unconventional – and in many renewables. If the revolution continues in the US and extends to the rest of the world, energy consumers can anticipate a future dominated by cheap gas. However, if it falters and the current hype about shale gas proves an illusion, the world will face serious gas shortages in the medium term”
A Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) fan wrote to me, linking to the CCS industry :-
“A British study indicates that cheap low-emission shale gas, with double the global reserves of conventional sources, will discourage investment in nuclear reactors and carbon storage. “In a world where there is the serious possibility of cheap, relatively clean gas, who will commit large sums of money to expensive pieces of equipment to lower carbon emissions?” Paul Stevens, senior research fellow at Chatham House, a London-based institute for the study of international affairs, wrote in the report published today.”
This is what the CCS fan had to add :-
“What this important article from the ‘CaptureReady’ international CCS news website fails to pick up (although other authors have) is that these prices will have an equal dampening effect on all renewables projects as well, […] never mind offshore wind power costs, while easily meeting all conceivable carbon dioxide reduction targets out to beyond 2050 and delivering reliable, dispatchable power, with none of the unreliability/unpredictability ‘down-sides’ of variable wind output. ‘I know which I’d pick’ as a power company today, especially given the low investment cost per kW […]. Looks like it may be ‘gas forever’ for at least the next couple of decades, so we need to lobby very hard for CCS from the start on every new gas powerplant and large industrial plant, followed by a big programme of properly-subsidised CCS retrofits, if that’s where the real industrial world is going…the quoted US conventional gas number is just plain wrong (far too high!), and the Shale gas price is very geology/location and project-scale-dependent (that is, variable), so that price in Texas does not mean similarly low shale gas prices everywhere – meaning the total resource quoted is certainly not available at that sort of low price. As with all resources, there’s actually a ‘staircase’ of amount versus price. Shale gas exploitation is ‘inherently costly’ (capital-intensive) due to the relatively larger number of wells needed, the poor permeability and the considerable cost of the ‘fracking’ operation itself. The poor inherent permeability inevitably means that the production rate will decline more steeply and quickly than conventional gas wells, meaning that costly multiple repeat fracking may be necessary, adding to costs.”
And as a summary of the shale gas downsides :-
Main conclusions [on shale gas] :
1. Huge levels of uncertainly on total reserves and future production rates, even in the USA.
2. Not at all certain that the large-scale US shale gas experience can be replicated in Europe/Rest of the World at all – environmental issues/local NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard] may stop it in its tracks.
3. Said huge uncertainties, on top of the recent recession, is significantly increasing commercial risk factors and inhibiting new production investment in all types of energy supply. Possibility of resulting very steep multi-year price rises, if shale gas ‘fails to deliver’, as demand rises and exceeds current supply, due to investment cycle time lag.
4. Particular over-supply problems in the LNG [Liquid Natural Gas – mostly from the Middle East] sector which should keep the cost of UK imported LNG low for a considerable time.
5.The EU has shown itself unable/unwilling to invest state funds in new gas production/transport projects of all types.”
Forget about price just for a moment…remind me again…where does all that fracking water, with all those toxic chemicals in it, end up ?
The documentary evidence shows that America’s business interests often outweigh its political progress. Yet it’s perhaps more concerning that, increasingly, corporate America is at risk of damaging good environmental governance.
With all the talk of free markets in international trade, the Coalition Government in the United Kingdom has felt the pressure to open up the back door to American energy businesses, whose highly-paid sales representatives in slick suits want us to buy their dirty energy projects – just take a look at the upcoming UK Energy Bill and its proposals for Electricity Market Reform.
American companies seem poised to sweep in and take all our public non-subsidy “support” for building new nuclear power plants. Viewers of a sensitive political disposition should look away now as this is a Wikileak :-
The country that brought you the engineering industry that brought you the giant Gulf of Mexico giant oil spill now wants to bring you unsafe deepwater drilling in Britain’s Continental Shelf – and the UK’s new Energy Bill would let them do that without demonstrating any learning from the BP April 2010 fiasco :-
There’s lots of talk in the energy sector and the financial markets about the American shale gas miracle “gamechanger” and how it can be replicated in Europe and across the world, and not enough discussion about the environmental dangers :-
It’s good to talk about local environmental damage from “unconventional” gas, but what’s not being discussed so widely is that these “new” resources of Natural Gas aren’t really very green, and neither are the “traditional” resources – in some cases they’re not much better than coal :-
We know that the Americans always seek to protect the interests of American-owned businesses – and we know they do that for the best of intentions – to keep America wealthy (except it’s really only a few people in America that have any wealth, but anyway…)
Yet I think there should be a limit to how far we have to bend over backwards to accommodate their needs for economic recovery.
To export all their dirty energy technology to Europe is just not helpful, and I think we should say no, no, no.
The public propaganda budget for most energy and mining companies is eensy weensy compared to the profits they can make by polluting and stealing.
Are you ready for another American energy myth ? Yes, the country with the energy production “community” that brought you the Gulf of Mexico spill disaster of April 2010, is now threatening groundwater pollution and seismic shocks at a county near you in the United Kingdom.
A glimpse of the public relations that have led up to this can be seen very easily by using an Internet Search Engine using an Internet Browser (like Google running on Google Chrome, for example), using the search term : “shale gas gamechanger”.
That little word “gamechanger” has been soaking through the business, engineering and financial press in relation to “unconventional” gas for at least six months. Everybody digests this word in connection with information touting the magical promise of virtually free gas in the rocks beneath our feet. And then they repeat the concept and this little sales word to others. It’s gone completely viral.
Roger Harrabin of the BBC (thanks, Roger) brings word that the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research has recommended a moratorium on shale gas operations until more science is known about the results of the engineering :-
“…”We are aware that there have been reports from US of issues linked to some shale gas projects,” a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) told BBC News. “However, we understand that these are only in a few cases and that Cuadrilla (the firm testing for shale gas in Lancashire) has made it clear that there is no likelihood of environmental damage and that it is applying technical expertise and exercising the utmost care as it takes drilling and testing forward.”…”
So who is this company “Cuadrilla” ?
It is an entity formed from one Australian engineering giant and one American financial giant, seeking to propagate the American way of life of developing “new” energy resources :-
“…Lucas announced that the Riverstone/Carlyle Global Energy and Power Funds, a group of energy-focused private equity funds managed by Riverstone Holdings LLC, has committed to subscribe US$58.0 million for equity in Cuadrilla Resources Holding Ltd, the holding company established by Lucas to hold its investment for unconventional hydrocarbons exploration and development in Europe.”
“Lucas was a founding shareholder in Cuadrilla and has supported the management team since the company’s inception. Lucas’ total investment as of today’s date amounts to A$52.4 million.
Cuadrilla has applied for, and in some cases been granted, exploration licences totalling in excess of 1.5 million acres in the UK, Holland, Spain and Poland. In addition, Cuadrilla has designed, overseen the manufacture of and delivered state of the art cementing and fracture stimulation equipment and is soon to take delivery of a DrillMec HH220 top drive rig.”
So, does this technology actually work safely ?
Nobody really knows, is the short answer.
“…Funded by the Cooperative, the Tyndall report demonstrates how the extraction of shale gas risks seriously contaminating ground and surface waters. In this regard alone, there should be a moratorium on shale gas development until a there is a much more thorough understanding of the extraction process…”
Why do we continue to have American companies imprinting their business models on the UK ? We have to have their “independent” nuclear deterrent, their behemoth nuclear reactor construction companies, their health insurance companies, their failed genetically modified crops, their privatised prison and school and health centre management policies, their tax concepts, their social control policies, even their zeal for state terrorism…sorry…”The War against Terror”. And nobody seeks to question why we have to copycat everything the Americans do, even when it goes badly wrong.
Why can’t we have a War against Error ?
We need a real “regime change” here – we need to say a big no to American energy policy. And that starts with asking a few questions about the way American companies do business.
Here’s just one example of the sort of practice that the people behind Cuadrilla get up to :-
“In 2000, Carlyle entered into a joint venture with Riverstone Holdings, an energy and power focused private equity firm founded by former Goldman Sachs investment bankers. In March 2009, New York State and federal authorities began an investigation into payments made by Carlyle and Riverstone to placement agents allegedly made in exchange for investments from the New York State Common Retirement System, the state’s pension fund. It was alleged that these payments were in fact bribes or kickbacks, made to pension officials who have been under investigation by New York State Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo. In May 2009, Carlyle agreed to pay $20 million in a settlement with Cuomo and accepted changes to its fundraising practices.”
And you trust these people with the right motives when agreeing to finance shale gas exploitation in Europe ?
A. J. Lucas Group is the engineering partner in this enterprise :-
“The Company’s Oil and Gas segment is engaged in the exploration for and commercialization of hydrocarbons in Australia, Canada, United States and Europe. As of June 30, 2010, the Company held 56.95% interest in Cuadrilla Resources Corporation Limited (Cuadrilla).”
Starting with Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach, they appear to want to dig up the whole of Lancashire :-
“Mr Cornelius said Cuadrilla would begin the extraction process in early January and would hope to have its first flare – gas burning at the surface – by early February.”
“If successful, the find would be extremely significant given Britain’s dwindling energy resources and our increasing reliance on imported gas. Cuadrilla had previously said the amount of shale gas in the Bowland site could meet as much as 5 to 10 per cent of Britain’s energy resources.”
“Now, after the first samples have been analysed, the suspicion is that the Lancashire fields could hold a lot more.”
“Now one site has been explored, the drilling rig will be moved to another site on the Bowland Shale to assess the size of the gas field overall. If those explorations also prove successful, then Cuadrilla will look to sell the entire operation to a large exploration company, like Shell, to carry out the expensive and time-consuming production process.”
Somebody has to say no to this. That somebody could be you.
What does shale gas “fracking” do to land, peoples and communities ?
Come and find out :-
“GASLAND : Opening 17 January 2011 : Winner – Special Jury Prize – Sundance Film Festival 2010 : Nominated – Grand Jury Prize – Sundance film Festival 2010 : A frightening documentary that follows director Josh Fox as he attempts to uncover the truth about Halliburton-developed procedures for drilling for natural gas (known as hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’). When Fox is offered $100,000 for drilling rights to land he owns in Pennsylvania, his subsequent cross-country investigative odyssey lands him in communities contaminated by chemical waste caused by ‘fracking’ (the residents of one town are able to light their drinking water on fire). Another in a long line of essential environmental documentaries – each of which seems to be more alarming and compelling than the last…”
Come along and watch your own hellish future if you are unlucky enough to sit on top of gas-bearing rock formations :-
17 – 27 Jan, 4 – 6, 11 – 13, 16 – 17, 19, 26 – 27 Feb 2011
A frightening documentary that follows director Josh Fox as he attempts to uncover the truth about Halliburton-developed procedures for drilling for natural gas (known as hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’). When Fox is offered $100,000 for drilling rights to land he owns in Pennsylvania, his subsequent cross-country investigative odyssey lands him in communities contaminated by chemical waste caused by ‘fracking’ (the residents of one town are able to light their drinking water on fire). Director Q&A plus panel discussion : After the premiere on 17 January there will be a discussion panel afterwards comprising the director Josh Fox, along with representatives from The Co-operative and WWF.”…”
Here’s just a few links to peoples groups opposed to the engineering of unconventional gas :-
It’s time our authorities read between the lines and regulated this practice away from Europe.
If we had a sparsely populated continent with lots of unused land, then maybe it might be OK. But with the risks still fully unquantified, we should keep this engineering out of well-populated and ecologically sensitive areas, particularly areas with water courses and farmland.
Welcome to little Gracie, born at Michaelmas.
By the time this child is five years old, the world should have agreed to control Carbon Dioxide emissions.
Net greenhouse gas emissions to air should have peaked, and be on the decline by the time this child starts school.
It’s up to us to care for our children.
If we don’t take steps to stop the ocean becoming increasingly acidic, we will have destroyed part of the food chain, and people will go hungry in greater numbers than they do now :-
“August 2010 : Scientific American Magazine : Threatening Ocean Life from the Inside Out; August 2010; Scientific American Magazine; by Marah J. Hardt and Carl Safina : …As researchers, we were concerned about the underappreciated effects of changing ocean chemistry on the cells, tissues and organs of marine species. In laboratory experiments at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, Havenhand had demonstrated that such changes could seriously impede the most fundamental strategy of survival: sex. Ocean acidification—a result of too much carbon dioxide reacting with seawater to form carbonic acid—has been dubbed “the other CO2 problem.” As the water becomes more acidic, corals and animals such as clams and mussels have trouble building their skeletons and shells. But even more sinister, the acidity can interfere with basic bodily functions for all marine animals, shelled or not. By disrupting processes as fundamental as growth and reproduction, ocean acidification threatens the animals’ health and even the survival of species. Time is running out to limit acidification before it irreparably harms the food chain on which the world’s oceans—and people—depend.”
And global warming will only make the problem worse :-
Letter : Nature Geoscience 2, 105 – 109 (2009)
Published online: 25 January 2009 : doi:10.1038/ngeo420
“Long-term ocean oxygen depletion in response to carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels”
Gary Shaffer, Steffen Malskær Olsen & Jens Olaf Pepke Pedersen
“Abstract : Ongoing global warming could persist far into the future, because natural processes require decades to hundreds of thousands of years to remove carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning from the atmosphere. Future warming may have large global impacts including ocean oxygen depletion and associated adverse effects on marine life, such as more frequent mortality events, but long, comprehensive simulations of these impacts are currently not available. Here we project global change over the next 100,000 years using a low-resolution Earth system model, and find severe, long-term ocean oxygen depletion, as well as a great expansion of ocean oxygen-minimum zones for scenarios with high emissions or high climate sensitivity. We find that climate feedbacks within the Earth system amplify the strength and duration of global warming, ocean heating and oxygen depletion. Decreased oxygen solubility from surface-layer warming accounts for most of the enhanced oxygen depletion in the upper 500 m of the ocean. Possible weakening of ocean overturning and convection lead to further oxygen depletion, also in the deep ocean. We conclude that substantial reductions in fossil-fuel use over the next few generations are needed if extensive ocean oxygen depletion for thousands of years is to be avoided.”
If you, dear Reader, are a Republican American, and you are demographically “middle class”, and you support the Tea Party movement, you are likely to have been seriously deceived – by Big Energy. Or Big Mining.
Who are these “Big Diggers”, propagandising the naive, well-intentioned, right-wing citizens of the United States of America, so they don’t realise they’re thinking somebody else’s thoughts, shouting somebody else’s slogans, riding somebody else’s train ?
Combustion of Fossil Fuels and Biomass is a major cause of chronic respiratory problems around the world.
Many people seem to know that smoky stoves in the Global South cause lung disease for millions of children in poverty.
But what will happen as more so-called Renewable Energy is built in the United Kingdom ?
This answer from Almuth Ernsting points the way :-
“Forth Energy have put in a planning application for a power station in Dundee which will burn 1 million tonnes of mainly imported wood per year. Altogether, they want to build four power stations in Scotland which will burn a total of 5.3 million tonnes. That’s the equivalent of nearly two-thirds of the UK’s annual wood production. Such a large new demand for wood will, directly and/or indirectly, mean more industrial tree plantations and more logging at the expense of forests, climate and communities. If approved, Forth Energy’s power stations would attract an estimated £300 million in subsidies every year – paid as “Renewable Obligation Certificates” through a levy on electricity bills. Local residents would be affected by more air pollution in a city with already high levels of pollution. There are also serious concerns about the impacts on the Firth of Tay and Eden Estuary,which is a Special Area of Conservation. There has been a large number of objections from residents in Dundee already. To read more background information and to object to the application through our webform, please go to: https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/forthsep2010.php”
The solution : stop burning things to make energy ! It’s really, really simple. Use Wind Power, Solar Power, Wave Power, Tidal Power, Geothermal Power…
“The Two Marks” – Mark Delucchi and Mark Jacobson make similar arguments :-
What happened to all that deepwater crude gusher oil, so visible from space, spreading like a magical sheen on the surface of the waters in the Gulf of Mexico ?
It’s now lying as a 5cm layer of gunk on the sea floor, that’s what. That’s where you’ll find Ground Zero for BP’s careless “blame the cement” spill mess-tastrophe :-
If ever there were an advertisement for the campaigns to end the age of fossil fuels, this, I think, is it.
The Climate Change narrative is being hijacked by several “special interests”, or rather “corporate public relations operations”, I have decided.
Let me take you round the loop one time to show you my logic on their warez. Note the dates of the pieces – Evidence A was quickly followed everywhere by Evidence B :-
Evidence A : Recent Research links Bee Death to Pesticides
“Aug 27, 2010 : Insecticide implicated in bee decline : Honeybees, bumblebees and many other insects are being slowly poisoned to death by persistent insecticides used to protect agricultural crops. Small doses of the toxic chemicals accumulate over time, meaning that there is no safe level of exposure. That’s the conclusion from recent research looking at the long-term effects of a commonly used class of insecticides. As they buzz from flower to flower, bees, moths and hoverflies carry out a vital job. Around one third of agricultural crops are pollinated by these busy insects, a service that is worth £440 m a year to the UK economy alone. But in recent years these valuable pollinators have been struggling, with populations plummeting worldwide. Honeybees in particular have been suffering, with colony collapse disorder (CCD) – a phenomenon where the bees desert the hive – becoming more common in Europe and North America. Controversy has swirled around the issue, and everything from mobile phones to GM crops have been blamed. Now new studies indicate that insecticides are playing a significant role. The most recent studies have exposed a variety of insects to varying doses of neonicotinoid insecticides over long time periods – 12 months or more. Neonicotinoid insecticides are widely used worldwide; they work by acting on the central nervous system of the insect…”
An e-mail trail with a certain amount of political content…
from: Kate Shepherd
date: Tue, Aug 10, 2010
subject: Climate Week
It was lovely to speak with you today about Climate Week and I’d be grateful if you could pass on the information to the rest of your team.
Climate Week, 21st – 27th March 2011, is a new national occasion on climate change, backed by the Prime Minister, Al Gore and Kofi Annan. During Climate Week, thousands of events will be run by organisations from every part of society to highlight the positive steps being taken to help prevent climate change.
I have attached a document for further information, the document includes a list of supporters of Climate Week, which range from every part of society: from the Chief Fire Officers Association to the Women’s Institute, the Girl Guiding UK to several Regional Development Agencies.
It’s OK to spill.
That’s the message handed to Royal Dutch Shell in the form of their fine for spilling oil in the Niger Delta – only 10% of their spillage will be counted :-
Environmental fines don’t work – because the oil and gas and coal companies have well-paid and persistent lawyers :-
Money can’t buy you a clean environment. Take note.
We all love the inputs, but what about the outputs ?
Fossil Fuels have been providing an easy life and easy pickings for the citizens and enterprises of the industrialised world for some time.
People love their jet-fuelled lives. One man will move one kilometre from his home to a restaurant in two and a half metric tonnes of steel and glass believing he is admired for his larger-than-car-sized car. He will wear sunshades, and oil-slicked hair (if he has any) and sport a tan from his recent holiday over the ocean. A life of glory and feeling good about himself.
But what about the emissions ? What, indeed, about the environmental devastation at the places the Fossil Fuels (and metal and glass) were mined and refined and manufactured ?
What do we leave behind ?
Banks + Coal = Climate Chaos
People + Information = Social Change
Just say no. No to Coal. And then no to all the other Fossil Fuels.
Of course, Pat Michaels is “right-wing”, but that’s not what I meant.
Some folk will be surprised that I agree with anything that Patrick Michaels says, as he is consistently inaccurate about the Science of Global Warming.
However, he is right that a Carbon Tax is the wrong way to proceed.
Carbon pricing, whether by direct taxation or by a trading scheme, effectively creates a double disincentive for change.
We have a large number of companies and organisations that are highly dependent on the use of Fossil Fuels. Carbon pricing will make these companies and organisations less financially efficient, and they will try anything they can to pass on the costs of Carbon to their consumers and clients, in order to remain profitable.
Carbon Taxation will therefore stimulate cost offsetting, but not Carbon reductions.
Moreover, if companies that make and sell energy are forced to pay for Carbon, they will have less funds available to deCarbonise their businesses; less capital to invest in new lower Carbon technologies.
Carbon Pricing will not alter the patterns of emissions significantly, if at all.
We have to face facts : the economists are largely wrong about environmental taxation. Record fines and levies demanded of Fossil Fuel companies in the last ten years have not stopped the spills, the leaks, the poisonings of waterways; nor have they helped the companies change course and start to develop Renewable Energies.
The pricing of large scale environmental pollution is a failed disincentive.
One of the worst ideas that anybody has ever had is to pull heaps of toxic chemicals out of the ground and spread them over the surface of one of the few countries that will remain habitable after the onset of deep Climate Change.
If the Global Warming doesn’t get you, then the mercury from the Tars Sands tailing ponds sure will !
“Oil sands toxins growing rapidly : Nathan VanderKlippe : Published on Monday, Aug. 09, 2010 : Canada’s oil sands mining operations produce vast and fast-growing quantities of deadly substances, including mercury, heavy metals and arsenic, new data released by Environment Canada shows. The information on pollutants sheds new light on the environmental toll exacted by Canada’s bid to extract oil from bitumen, showing in stark relief how many nasty substances are being laid on the northern Alberta landscape in the process – and how quickly those are growing. In the past four years, the volume of arsenic and lead produced and deposited in tailings ponds by the country’s bitumen mines – run by Syncrude Canada Ltd., Suncor Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC – has increased by 26 per cent. Quantities of some other substances have increased at even faster rates. The companies also released huge amounts of pollutants into the air last year, including 70,658 tonnes of volatile organic compounds, which can damage the function of human organs and nervous systems, and 111,661 tonnes of sulphur dioxide, a key contributor to acid rain…The numbers “are just ridiculously huge,” said Justin Duncan, a staff lawyer with Ecojustice…”
Unconventional fossil fuels are just such a liability – using up precious freshwater resources and depositing toxic waste just about everywhere.
Shale Gas (or Gas Shale) operations are reported to be polluting underground water tables. Now, that’s a clever thing !
“EPA moves NY drilling hearing, expecting crowds : By MARY ESCH : ALBANY, N.Y. : In anticipation of as many as 8,000 people at a public hearing on natural gas drilling, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that it was moving it from Binghamton University to a Syracuse convention center 65 miles north. The hearing is the fourth and last by the EPA around the country to get public comment on its study of hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells. Critics say the technology, which blasts chemical-laced water into the earth, could poison water supplies. The industry says it’s been used safely for decades. The EPA said 300 people have signed up to speak at Thursday’s sessions and 1,200 are expected to attend…Advancements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, significantly increased yield from shale gas wells and led to the current natural gas boom, starting with the Barnett Shale in Texas. The technology has drawn intense scrutiny since the focus of gas drilling companies has shifted in recent years to the Marcellus Shale, a massive rock formation underlying New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Environmental groups, residents and civic leaders fear potential contamination of watersheds in the densely populated region if fracking isn’t more tightly regulated. Fracking was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005 after an earlier EPA study declared fracking wasn’t a threat to water supplies. That study has since been criticized as flawed. The new EPA study, to be completed in 2013, could lead to new federal regulations. However, the industry says state regulation is sufficient and has worked well…”
It’s been a bad month or so for ignominious ends in unusually hot and sticky conditions : drunk Russians drowning as they try to cool off from a once-in-a-thousand-year heatwave centred on Moscow; hundreds of Chinese swept away; a Darwin award surely going to the man who died whilst participating in the World Sauna Championships, thousands of Pakistanis snatched by flood waters, and then there’s poor Matthew Simmons, leader of the Peak Oilers, bursting his aorta in a private spa :-
“AUGUST 9, 2010 : Without Matt Simmons: Has Peak Oil, Well, Peaked? : By Michael Corkery : Matt Simmons, the maverick investment banker who championed the concept of peak oil, died of a heart attack in a hot tub in Maine. He was 67. Simmons is best known for raising the alarm, in books, in lectures, television interviews and to anyone who would listen, that the world’s oil reserves had peaked. The concept of “peak oil” wasn’t new when Simmons wrote Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, in 2005. In fact, peak oil was first posited by a geophysicist named M. King Hubbert in the 1950s who predicted that world oil supply would peak in 1995. But Simmons helped to being the theory to the mass media, after traveling to Saudi Arabia in 2003 to research that nation’s secretive data on oil reserves, or the amount of oil able to be pumped out of the ground. His book became an instant classic among conspiracy theorists…”
Hey ! Don’t disrespect the dead ! He made a very valid contribution to the world’s understanding that the Fossil Fuel free ride won’t last forever, and is, in fact, stopping short as I write…